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Before reading this blog post “Japanese Ump chases the American Dream” in the middle of December, I knew nothing about Takeshi Hirabayashi, the FIRST Triple-A umpire from Japan, or a Japanese TV documentary project that featured his Season 2010 (supposed by himself as the last challenge for advancement to the Major League). I immediately checked out his blog (in Japanese) and learned this TV documentary had already been completed and televised, but would return in the afternoon of the New Year’s Eve. How I longed for the New Year’s Eve… But to my greatest disappointment, the nationwide year-end return of this program on TV was not available in Osaka area I live! At last in early January, I found the entire program uploaded at Veoh and enjoyed this amazing story online.
Unfortunately, this documentary program was intended solely for Japanese audience and has therefore no title or caption in English at all. Here is some “offline” unofficial English caption, a kind of “fansub”, by a fansubber in her non-native language. This is not just a story of a Japanese umpire. It’s a story of people who have profound life-long love of baseball.
[Pacific Coast League Umpire Crew No. 8]
Barry Larson (34, #58): Crew chief. 3rd year in Triple A. Assigned to Dominican Winter League in 2009. Starting his career as professional umpire at the age of 25, he assumes Season 2010 as his last challenge for advancement to the Major League.
Takeshi Hirabayashi (44, #37), a/k/a Tak: 2nd year in Triple-A. Started to pursue a professional umpiring career in Japan in college days, but failed twice to pass the vision test. Attended Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring and started his umpiring career in US in 1992 (3 years ahead of Hideo Nomo starting his career as the first MLB player from Japan with Dodgers). Being offered a job as an NPB umpire from the Pacific League, he returned to Japan and started his own family. Inspired by Japanese Major Leaguers and encouraged by his wife Emiko, he restarted his pursuit of an umpiring career in the Major League from scratch in 2004. Restarting from the Rookie Gulf Coast League in 2006, he climbed up to the Triple-A International League in 2009 and then moved to the Pacific Coast League (closer to japan).
Brian Sinclair (27, #47): 1st year in Triple-A. Promoted from Double-A Texas League crew chief. Probably the photographer who took this picture. Although not always visible on the screen in this program, I know he is there with the crew.
[Pacific Coast League “vacation” (or “call-up”) umpires (Triple-A umpires calling MLB games in place of MLB umpires on leave)]
Mike Muchlinski (33, #20): 7th year in the “vacation” umpire pool. Most frequent collaborator with Crew No. 8 in 4-umpire games. Replaces Takeshi on August 29.
Todd Tichenor (33, #97): 4th year in the “vacation” umpire pool. Replaces Barry on June 27.
(thanks to this encyclopedic website)
(The on-season daily life of Minor League umpires is a complex mosaic of excitement and stress. Sometimes they have to start a road trip for the next game at 4:00 a.m, even after calling a night extra-inning game and going to bed at 0:00 a.m.)
June 14, Colorado Springs: Field evaluation. An MLB supervisor’s critical comment affects Takeshi’s calling thereafter for a while.
(Encouragement from Barry. Takeshi becomes aware of the fact that a quick and accurate call alone is not sufficient to make a good umpire)
June 27, Oklahoma City: Turning point of the first half of the season. A hit-by-pitch suspected of the pitcher’s response against 3 consecutive homeruns by an identical hitter (an attitude far beyond imagination of Japanese baseball fans!). A prior alert by Todd Tichenor, “vacation” umpire, helps Takeshi make a cool judgement and avoid rough moments.
August 15, New Orleans: Takeshi gets hit on the head by foul tip at HP during the game (about 50th of such incidents in his umpiring career).
August 17, Sacramento: Career-first absense from the game due to persistent pain in the neck. Assigned to DL for 1 week.
August 25, Sacramento: Visit to a physician’s office. Told NOT to call any game for the rest of season. Absense from a total of 20 games would make advancement at the season end impossible.
August 29, Sacramento: The last game of Crew No. 8 in Sacramento. “See you in Arizona (Fall League)!” Takeshi stays alone for rehabilitation.
At season’s end, Barry gets the call of advancement with assignment to Arizona Fall League (he would also call PCL Championship Games where my Rainiers finally won at Safeco Field). Brian gets assignment to Venezuelan Winter League (assignment to an offseason league or postseason playoff games is an important step in career development of professional umpires). Takeshi restarts training, bearing in mind that he has much to improve in the coming season. His journey goes on. “No dream will come true without reaching out your hand to grab it”.
BEST OF LUCK IN SEASON 2011 for Takeshi, Barry, Brian, and all umpires working behind the scenes of excitement!!
APPENDIX: Japanese baseball fans had some negative feeling towards US umpires since the 2nd round of WBC 2006. But this program deeply impressed Japanese audience, even those not familiar enough with baseball per se. Not a few Japanese bloggers unequivocally wrote in their blog posts, “If (I’d say) Takeshi is a Samurai, Barry is a Gentleman.”